“The care you give to yourself is the care you give to your loved one…”
The easiest thing for someone to say and the hardest thing to accept is the advice to take care of yourself as a Family Caregiver. It can be hard to see beyond the care tasks that await you each morning.
Study after study shows that caregiving compromises health. About 60% of caregivers show signs of clinical depression, and they take more prescription medications, including those for anxiety and depression, than non-caregivers in their age group. 75% of caregivers in America are women, some taking care of spouses/partners, some adult children taking care of parents, some parents taking care of adult children. Let’s look at what taking care of yourself means, why is it so hard to do, and how to do it.
Support and coping comes in many forms—prayer, talking to family, friends or professionals, taking walks, reading a book, eating hot fudge sundaes, and most of all saying “yes” to offers of help. Sadly most caregivers end up withdrawing from friends and family and feeling isolated and as if no one understands. Support groups can be an important source of understanding and connection.
“Guilt is cancer. Guilt will confine you, torture you. It's a black wall. It's a thief.”
As there is no “perfect parent,” there is no such thing as a “perfect” caregiver. And you are not selfish to sometimes think about yourself and your needs and feelings. Although we will feel guilty when we get angry or frustrated, these feelings are OK and a way to know how well you are coping.
Learn to ask for help. The often-heard question, “Is there anything you need?” has but one answer: Yes. “Yes, I need a meal, I need someone to stay here so I can go out, I need some time by myself, I need flowers, I need help in the garden, I need some groceries.” Learn to say “no” to requests that are draining rather than nurturing, such as hosting holiday meals. You can still make choices about your life and what is right for you and you do still have some control.
Not getting enough sleep is a major cause of illness and stress in caregivers. Exhaustion is one of the main complaints, leading to irritability and then inappropriate anger which then leads to more guilt. Know the limits of your own endurance and strength. Make sure you have regular check ups and that those “little concerns” about your health are looked into. Exercise is even more important as it gives you a break, combats depression, and helps you maintain health. Family caregivers often worry about what will happen to their loved one if something happens to them. Worrying doesn’t help — taking better care of your health does.
Learn as much as you can about the illness so that you can understand what is happening. Attend a workshop or support group, not just for emotional support but also to learn caregiving tricks to make caregiving easier. Contact someone, like a Freudenthal Social Worker, who can help you connect with community resources and use them.
Emotional Health and Respite
It is easy to become overwhelmed, thus the need for breaks. Without breaks, you begin to question yourself, feel inadequate, and experience burn out. Family Caregivers need time away and scheduling respite care can be exactly what “the doctor ordered.” Having a family member or even calling Freudenthal to schedule care so you can get a break from time to time is important for you health.
Another stressor of caregiving is seeing no end to the situation. Having a life and connections outside of caregiving helps you to maintain perspective, so that caregiving doesn't become oneʼs only reality. Sometimes, your best and only defense is a sense of humor. Find people or situations to laugh at daily. It refreshes the soul and renews your spirit.